By PATRICK MCCRAY
Barnabas awakens to find his spirit transported back into his body in 1897. He summons Szandor, an unscrupulous but lovable gypsy who, with his fortune-telling wife, Magda, squat on the Old House property and sing for their suppers by entertaining Edith Collins. Edith is the ailing matriarch of the Collins family, and the news of her impending death summons home Quentin Collins. Quentin is a smooth talking, utterly ruthless cad who last escaped Collinwood with his brother’s wife in tow. He left behind Beth, the maid. She bitterly resents him, and yet carries a torch for the scoundrel, nevertheless. It’s clear that Quentin wants to see Jamison, but after being told that the boy is sleeping, he visits his grandmother, instead. She’s charmed by him but knows his wiles too well. He clearly wants to bulk up his inheritance, but is that all? There’s also the family secret. But only his brother, Edward, is to have that imparted to him. Meanwhile, summoned by Barnabas and with visions of the family jewels dancing in his head, Szandor goes to the secret room in the mausoleum. There he finds a familiar trigger. A door opens. A chained coffin lies within the room it reveals. Szandor removes the chains and unleashes a hand that shoots upward to his throat.
The inhuman adventure is just beginning.
1897 is, without a doubt, DARK SHADOWS greatest, pure adventure and liveliest romp. The show and Barnabas now parallel one another. Again, Barnabas thrusts upward in a fashion that, with only a second go, seems like a fond ritual. There’s a new confidence. Yes, he’s a vampire, but only a vacationing one. Now, he can use powers finally familiar to him rather than be used by them. And he knows he has a cured, human body in the 20th century waiting for him at mission’s end. He knows his abilities. He knows the possibilities. He knows far more of what Angelique’s capable of. He’s had two years to mellow out from what she did to him and has enjoyed seeing her upended more than once since then. Barnabas is now an old hand at ghosts, guilt, demons, werewolves, witches, and promethans. Not to mention time travel. Oh, and servants who would as soon stake you as help you. It’s good that he can stay in during the day because there’s little new under the sun for this cat. At the same time, the show introduces him into a world ripe with the supernatural. It’s full of colorful characters and familiar figures pushed to their most extreme. Even the family lawyer is a satanist. Had you told Dan Curtis that THIS is the series he’d be making back when the biggest deal on DARK SHADOWS was Maggie’s coffee, he would have produced gastrointestinal marvels for the age and lo, a new form of brick would have come into the world. No doubt with very prominent teeth.
1897 is a Ron Burgundy-confident retelling of the best of the entire series, mit Phoenix, with everything turned up to 11. You like it when Roger is a stiff-necked snob? Wait until Edward. When Maggie is saucy? Wait until Lady Kitty. When Liz is icy? She’s steam compared with Judith. And Carolyn gets to be even more of a pin and even more of a flirt at the very same time. You thought Willie was comic relief? Carl is just warming up. Trask couldn’t be worse unless we add child abuse, greed, murder, and lust to his range of options. You want Barnabas as a hero? Here he is. And what if that the oddball monster brought on to be a monster could be a breakout sex symbol? Well, let’s just cast a sex-symbol waiting to happen!
Yep, 1897. It’s the ultimate reset, and they hit it so hard and so firmly that pretty much every option the show could have at that time, with that budget, is explored. I think that’s why every story after that involves the undermining or destruction of the family. It was the only direction to go until it bounced back hard in 1840PT to normalcy.
A lot of firsts on DARK SHADOWS today. Say hello to Magda and Szandor and hear Quentin say hello, speaking his first words. If Selby lacked confidence, he had the charm to cover it up. He struts onto that set and owns it. Maybe he’s from the future, and read Kathryn’s books about the show. He acts like he knows this show is now his… and not just his. It’s everyones. I mean that. It is now a show that exists for reasons beyond selling toothpaste and pantyhose. It exists to do more than telling stories within the soap format. It finally exists as DARK SHADOWS, uncompromised, unafraid, and unlike anything else.